We all know that one of the Symptoms with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome is the lack of social skills. When a person with Aspergers Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism reaches the years of junior high and high school, some, but not all aspies are notoriously bullied, teased and picked on. Along with low social skills, students on the spectrum have trouble understanding other peoples minds, aka “mind blindness”. Many people say that repetition, structure, and authority are the way to teach students on the spectrum the social skills they need for life. I unfortunately have to say that I strongly disagree with the repetitious authoritarian teaching style. This blog will tell you why I feel that way.
I went to the Wesley Wonder Kids group in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. They held two hour sessions, and I went two times a week. I started out in their “social pathways” group, which was for younger teenagers that were in their middle school years. In this particular group, all group members were required to address each staff member as Miss or Mr, followed by their first name. Their director, whose name I will not mention told me the reason they want the members to address staff members as “Miss or Mister” was because they wanted the children to feel that the staff members were the authority, “you do it my way, or the highway.” I could function a lot better than the kids in this group because they showed some behaviors that were rather immature. One behavior I noticed with the members of this group were when we would do group activities, they would always argue and work against each other and not with each other. I remember one particular instance when we were getting ready to put together a Haunted House for Halloween, one of the group members wanted to put a decoration in the front of the room we were working on, while the other student wanted it in the back of the room. They kept arguing about it for about ten minutes, when a staff member finally came and broke it up. They could have come up with a resolution to the conflict in not even fifteen seconds, when they instead argued about it for about ten minutes. These particular group members were middle school aged, and I was high school aged. Another behavior that I noticed with this group was that when a group member would do something to me that I didn’t like, they would just keep on doing it. One group member was constantly kicking a chair I was sitting in, and I already asked him to stop three times. The first time I asked him to stop doing it he answered me with a flat “no”, the second time he made a very childish giggle and then kicked the chair harder and faster. I remember there was a staff member sitting next to me, but they were not paying any attention to the situation, because she was having a conversation with another staff member about topics that were non work related. I walked up to them and told them what the problem was, and they snapped at me and said “I am in the middle of a conversation right now, you are interrupting me.” I then gave up and sat somewhere else. If I asserted myself, I would probably get in trouble.
I was in the social pathways group for about three years, my mother spent about a year trying to convince the program director that the older teen group was the right option for me, and for some reason she disagreed with me. From what I heard from her, I was not being “verbal” enough. Going back to the situation about the kid kicking my chair, I WAS BEING VERBAL, AND THE STAFF MEMBERS WERE PREVENTING ME FROM DOING IT. After about a year of arguing with the director, we finally compromised with her, and I got into the older teen group. The older teen group had less structure and authority than the social pathways group, for example, the group members didn’t have to address the staff members as “Miss or Mr”, they were allowed to call them by their first name. In the social pathways group, the group members didn’t have to have a staff member walk with them if they needed to go to the restroom or get a drink, which I liked a lot better. I couldn’t stand having a staff member sit right outside the door of the bathroom, it’s more irritating then having a teacher stand over your shoulder and screaming at you about not doing a math problem “right”.
Despite the older teen group having less structure and authority than the social pathways middle school group, which I liked a lot better, there was one thing about the program directors attitude that irritated me more than anything. Sometimes when we were doing an activity I didn’t like, I would make an occasional noise, it was my way of trying to avoid a situation. I don’t make noises constantly, like people with severe autism do, it only happened once or twice during the group. One of the staff members pulled me out of the group, and said to me “If you make one more noise, (program director) will demote you to back to the younger group.” The first sentence out of my mouth after she told me that was “if she demotes me back to the younger group, I will not come to Wesley anymore.” My impression is they were trying to threaten they would do things like that to try to get me to stop making noises, which DID NOT WORK. I make silly noises to joke around, I’m not trying to disrupt or annoy people with it. Besides, there were kids in the group that had worse social skills than I had, and that had more rude and exhibited more rude and inappropriate behaviors than I did, so why were they trying to threaten me? There was one group member that was only about two or three years older than I was that made a very rude, ignorant comment toward a peer. The group did an activity called “Coffee Talk”, one group member was assigned to bring a treat, and they were assigned to pick a topic that everyone in the group was required to join the discussion about. The topic for that particular day was plans for the summer, and one group member mentioned where he was going to college. Then that group member blurted out “that school is where all of the stupid people go”. The staff members did nothing but say that same old “don’t ever say that again”. That was the classic example of someone who doesn’t know how to do their job. When you reprimand a child for saying something he shouldn’t, you need to explain to them WHY WHATEVER THEY SAID WAS INAPPROPRIATE, AND MORE APPROPRIATE WAYS OF WORDING WHAT THEY SAID. This person also had the tendency to bring up topics that were very inappropriate for a group setting, such as things that were drug/alcohol related, or sexual. I hated the fact that they did nothing about that group members behaviors, and yelled at me for making a noise. The director also said I wasn’t being “verbal enough”, whatever that meant. I got the impression that they were trying to convince me into quitting the group, because they thought I made those one or two noises to disrupt the group. I got the impression that they wanted me quit the group because for whatever reason they said I was “disruptive and uncooperative.” I was pissed off at the the fact that they were telling me I needed to learn “social skills”, when they don’t demonstrate them themselves. I have one word of advice for parents that are looking for someone to work with their child on the spectrum is MAKE SURE THEY DEMONSTRATE SOCIAL SKILLS THEMSELVES. To me that is just like dealing with a teacher that says you need to learn whatever the material is, when they don’t know it themselves. When I finally had enough of them “threatening” me, my parents decided to pull me out of Wesley Wonder Kids. I didn’t enjoy going there, so why should I bother going there in the first place? In this situation, I learned that if someone thinks you need “social skills”, and they think that something is wrong with you, it means that there is something wrong with them. Don’t let anyone think that about you, you are who you are and you can’t change that.